Last year as a junior at Bowdoin, I made the mistake of complimenting a female friend on her outfit; that time, she accused me of “benevolent sexism.” As a first year, I made a similar tactical error by opening the door for a friend, a liberal self-proclaimed feminist, who disparaged me afterwards. My time in college has been plagued with moments like these, where women misconstrue my kindness for acts of perpetuating the patriarchy. For me, navigating friendships and other relationships with women has become more difficult, since many of them do not assume best intentions. I admit that my perspective is heteronormative, and there are likely similar discourses in same-sex relations or relations between gender nonconforming individuals. Still, the current discourse on opposite sex relations at Bowdoin may need great reconsideration.
It makes sense why a female Bowdoin student might be suspicious of a man’s kind gestures; she probably experienced deception and betrayal from a man before. At the present moment, I see a growing female trend towards a new male taxonomy, to the detriment of both men and women: the “fuckboy.”
The “fuckboy” is, as the “reliable” source Nancy Jo Sales defined it, “a young man who sleeps with women without any intention of having a relationship with them or perhaps even walking them to the door post-sex. He’s a womanizer, an especially callous one, as well as kind of a loser.” Years ago, such a man was known as a player, or simply an asshole. Today, the “fuckboy” has taken on numerous male archetypes—including, but not limited to, the slight or extreme misogynist, the basic lax bro or the playboy with feigned sexual competence.
Most of my white friends never thought to ask for the original usage of “fuckboy” from the people who have used it the most since 2003: black people. The new trend is for white Americans to appropriate black slang, oblivious to what the language was originally used for, reinventing definitions to veil their ignorance of urban vernacular. So, for articles to say that “fuckboy” came into popular parlance a few years ago is to say that slang only becomes popular once white circles start using it.
When I was in high school, “fuckboy” was a term used in my community to insult a man who “ain’t shit,” as the song lyric goes in Trey Songz’s “You Ain’t Shit.” A “fuckboy” was a scrub, a lame, a guy who was too simple and basic to deserve a more sophisticated insult. White op-ed writers have desperately tried to ground the “fuckboy” term in some complex analysis involving misogyny and sexual callousness, but it’s just not that deep. It’s 2017 and maybe women need a term to describe the apathetic “man whore.” I’m fine with ceding this term to the women who frequently use it in this way, but this whitewashed meaning of “fuckboy” has actually normalized romantic apathy and aversion to commitment among men.
My female friends thought they could invoke “fuckboy” to call out men’s sexually immoral behavior like the way “slut” functions for women. The branding of “fuckboy” has permitted men to ascribe to, and aspire to, a trendy sexual lifestyle. In fact, being called a “fuckboy” has become a badge of honor for many men at Bowdoin and other college campuses. I’ve met a fair share of “wannabe-fuckboys” who seem to follow the countless “10-Signs-He’s-a-‘Fuckboy’” articles verbatim, from asking for nudes, to sending cryptic messages instead of stating their real intentions, to pretending to have zero capacity for romantic affection.
Just when I thought “fuckboy” was loaded enough, the “softboy” was born. “Softboy” is a lazy, unoriginal attempt at a term for a “fuckboy with feelings.” The “softboy” is literally the same as a “fuckboy,” except he is socially aware of his deceptive behavior towards women, making him much more nefarious. Of course, Cosmopolitan articles and other trend pieces have constructed entire personalities and narratives behind the so-called “softboy.” I think this classification has made it dangerously easier to confuse any kind-hearted man for an undercover womanizer.
In a world where men are condemned as being either “fuckboys” or “softboys,” I feel like I’m walking on thin ice—and I can’t swim. I admit that male exploitative behavior exists, and has always somewhat blemished the reputation for men as a gender, and is thriving with the rise of hookup culture and dating apps. However, millennials have become inundated with so many pre-packaged narratives that it’s almost impossible for women to comfortably trust men. I’m afraid that the “fuckboy” and “softboy” are slowly being seen as a binary for men at Bowdoin and perhaps in youth culture at large. If a man doesn’t show romantic feelings for his girl of interest, he’s a “fuckboy,” and if he does show it, he could still be labeled a “softboy”—so I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.
Some women may accuse me of being a “softboy” sympathizer or a champion of the #NotAllMen hashtag, but I’ve learned to accept the labeling and name-calling. Not all men care about being decent partners and allies who want to end rape culture, but I do. Acts of kindness towards women are not always benevolent sexism. Sometimes, it’s as simple as being a compassionate human being, trying to lighten the load on someone else. Misogyny and rape culture heavily impact America, so the good men out there need tangible ways to prove they’re allies to women, or simply that they have good intentions.